nick730 (nick730) wrote,

Theatre review: Macbeth

An all-male Macbeth piqued my interest, making this a pretty busy weekend, and one in which I ended up seeing two plays I practically know word for word. Mark Leipacher's production for The Faction runs for just under two hours and bearing that in mind is admirably clear in its storytelling. The hectic pace means we don't get a lot of subtlety in the lead's characterisation, but actually the broad strokes mean Jamie Maclachlan's Macbeth has a very clearly delineated character arc - from allowing events to sweep him along at the start, to a total breakdown as soon as he's murdered Duncan, to grinning psychosis once he misinterprets the witches' prophecies as meaning he's invincible. He's very good, and when I could tear my eyes away from the veins popping in his muscles he has the undercurrent of cowardliness I've often thought was inherent to the character; although a couple of moments of his mad scenes were a bit broad for my taste. He also seems to know where the sentences start and stop, which you'd think would be obvious but you may recall nobody told Patrick Stewart that the punctuation's not just there to make the page look nice.

The production uses a lot of physical theatre to construct the world of the play; the only set is a load of planks of wood which are held by the cast to represent the dining table, walls of the castle etc. Most effectively, they're quickly carried across the stage by the cast to enable the witches to disappear, a really nice use of simple theatricality. Not every bit of physical theatre works, but the hit rate is surprisingly good and manages not to feel too much like Drama School. The cauldron scene reinterpreted as a rippling pile of zombie-like bodies pronouncing the prophecies has no right to work, but does, very well - as Rupert Goold's 2007 production proved, Macbeth can actually withstand some pretty strong gimmicks, especially in the horror scenes. (It also proved the Patrick Stewart/punctuation thing, but let's try and forget about that.)

Most of the text cutting works, although in the case of Banquo's murder it leads to a very clumsily rushed scene. And despite cutting a lot, they keep Hecate. Hecate! No bugger keeps Hecate! It's nicely done, mind, with her posessing one of the witches. A few characters are dropped, most effectively Macduff's son - instead, Jude Owusu Achiaw's Lady Macduff takes on his lines, turning the exchange into an imaginary conversation with a nursing baby.

As for the all-male gimmick, apart from emulating the way it would have been performed in Shakespeare's day I can't see what it was really meant to say. Apart from Lady Macbeth there's no major female roles (I'm not even counting the Weird Sisters as Shakespeare makes them pretty gender-ambiguous anyway) so I didn't feel like there was any major insight into the play by replacing the few female roles with men. The female characters are distinguished subtly though (no drag; they're in neutral costume and barefoot,) and Gareth Fordred makes for a relatively warm Lady Macbeth. There's actually quite a lot of camp in the performances of the men playing men as well; Gary Amers' Banquo is well-played and likeable, but also the flounciest Banquo you're likely to see. Smashing arse, mind.

I wondered if they'd take out the lines that refer to the women giving birth or breastfeeding, leaving them more gender-ambiguous, but they didn't, so again I'm a bit lost as to what they were trying to achieve with the casting. Elsewhere though I think they achieve a clear telling of a story that's so easy to get wrong. Plus, special mention to fight director Marcello Marascalchi: The fight scenes are awesome.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare is booking until the 4th of April at Brockley Jack Theatre.
Tags: macbeth, shakespeare, theatre

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